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Expect razor-thin margin when Saints visit Seahawks

A vastly-different looking New Orleans Saints defense than the 2011 playoff version will take on Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.A vastly-different looking New Orleans Saints defense than the 2011 playoff version will take on Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.

NEW ORLEANS -- On the eighth day of 2011, the New Orleans Saints were forced to endure one of the most embarrassing moments and shocking losses in the franchise's storied 47-year history.

It is the day Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn "The Beast'' Lynch produced a touchdown run of seismic proportions -- a 67-yard gallop through the heart of the Saints defense -- on an overcast afternoon in the Pacific Northwest.

It is the day the upstart champions from the NFC West with a 7-9 record scored an improbable 41-36 victory on Wildcard Saturday at Qwest Field.

On Monday night (ESPN, 7:40 p.m.), Saints head coach Sean Payton brings a new team back to the scene of an old crime in what promises to be a compelling matchup between two franchises vying for homefield advantage in the NFC.

The Seahawks are 10-1 and hold a three-game lead on San Francisco and Arizona in the NFC West. The Saints are 9-2 and being chased by the streaking 8-3 Carolina Panthers in the NFC South. Those teams play in Weeks 14 and 16 later in December.

Seattle has won 13 consecutive games at home, 14 counting its playoff victory against New Orleans in January 2011, and currently is favored by 5 1/2 points.

The venue in Seattle now answers to CenturyLink Field.

But the "12th Man'' answers to no one, and, no doubt, plans to wreak havoc with the Saints' smooth operator, Drew Brees.

Normally, I would say the key for the Saints on defense is to bring as many hats to the ball and gang tackle Lynch, a Lynch mob if you will, much like they tried to do inside the game's final four minutes nearly three years ago when he ran like a man possessed.

But the results need to be better. In that game, Lynch broke nine tackles and stiff-armed cornerback Tracy Porter into next year en route to a 67-yard romp to the end zone, part of a 19-carry, 131-yard performance. That run for the ages extended the Seahawks' lead to 41-30 and ultimately provided the winning cushion.

With each passing yard and fallen defender left in Lynch's wake, the sellout crowd reached decibel levels comparable to a jet engine. It was later determined that the 12th-man's reaction was enough to measure the shaking equivalent of a small earthquake.

Only one player who started on that Saints defense in the playoff game against Seattle will be active for Monday night's game: safety Roman Harper. He was the last player to whiff on Lynch at the Saints' 2-yard line. Current starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins was injured and did not play against the Seahawks. Will Smith, Patrick Robinson, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma are on IR. Tracy Porter is playing with Oakland. The other starters are retired or no longer in the league (Darren Sharper, Scott Shanle, Sedrick Ellis, Alex Brown and Marvin Mitchell).

That 2010 defense under coordinator Gregg Williams was highly ranked at the time of the game: fourth in total defense (306.3 YPG), seventh in scoring defense (19.2 PPG). This year's defense under coordinator Rob Ryan also is highly ranked: fifth in total defense (309.9 YPG) and fifth in scoring defense (17.8 PPG).

The Seahawks' defense this season is even more impressive, yielding fewer yards (293.3) and fewer points (16.3), second league-wide in both statistical categories.

How well Seattle defends Saints tight end Jimmy Graham could determine the outcome. If the Seahawks borrow a page from New England's game plan, look for cornerback Richard Sherman to play man-up against Graham on some downs and get bracket help from teammates on others.

Sherman possesses the same bravado and physical qualities of Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who played a lead role in preventing Graham from catching a pass in New England's 30-27 victory against New Orleans at Gillette Stadium in Week 6.

On the flip side, it will be imperative that Brees and the Saints offense handle the deafening crowd noise caused by the the 12th Man, whether he stays under center or uses a silent snap count in shotgun formation. Approximately 150 false start penalties have been called against visiting teams in Seattle since the 2002 season, second only to the Minnesota Vikings.

The long-range forecast calls for temps in the mid 30s, light rain with a slight chance of snow flurries, not exactly ideal weather for a dome team. That places a high premium on ball security. Seattle leads the NFL in takeaways with 26.



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